The Polynesian people have always felt a deep connection with nature and our planet. Living on remote islands sprinkled across the South Pacific for countless generations, they have learned the importance of nurturing the environment, and managing scarce resources. This approach to life is defined by the concept of Mālama Honua, a Hawaiian term which means to live in harmony with the Earth. It is a concept that has been critical to the survival of Polynesian culture, and one they are now hoping to share with the rest of the world, before it is too late.
Back in May of this year, a pair of traditional two-hulled Polynesian voyaging canoes—the Hokūle’a and her sister ship the Hikianalia—embarked on an epic journey to carry the message of Mālama Honua beyond Polynesia. The hope is that these two vessels can inspire others to live more harmoniously with our planet, before global climate change alters it forever. The three-year voyage will cover more than 47,000 nautical miles, and visit 85 ports in 26 countries along the way. It is an ambitious and inspiring project that will attempt to have a deep, and lasting, impression on numerous cultures across the globe.
Big-wave surfing legend Archie Kalepa recently served as part of the crew on the first leg of the journey. He spent 54 days at sea, as the Hokūle’a and Hikianalia explored the familiar waters of the South Pacific. Upon returning to his home in Hawaii, Kalepa shared some of the hardships the crew faced on their journey, which included massive storms, illness, injury, and daily grind of life aboard an ancient sailing vessel. Archie says, “Every day was a challenge,” although he is also quick to point out that it was a challenge worth undertaking.
After departing from Oahu, the Hokūle’a and Hikianalia sailed for the Cook Islands and Tahiti, where they visited locations that held traditional importance for Polynesian sailors of the past. The crew was looking to build up positive karma before starting their mission to carry their environmental message to the rest of the world. It was a message that didn’t need to be shared on the islands of the South Pacific, where the locals turned out by the thousands to welcome the ships. Kalepa described those islands as “beautiful and pristine,” indicating that it was due to a respect for the planet that they stayed that way.
It was no accident that the two ships sailed directly from Hawaii to the South Pacific. The Polynesian islands were specifically selected as the first destination of the expedition in order to give the crew an opportunity to take the vessels on a bit of a shakedown cruise before starting the next phase of their three-year mission. Kalepa says “Sailing the Pacific is easy. We know the waters, and these ships were built for it,”—a clear reference to the fact that the Hokūle’a and Hikianalia are exact replicas of the traditional two-hulled canoes used throughout the region for generations. “How they’ll perform outside of the South Pacific is an unknown,” he adds. “Soon, they’ll go into that unknown.”
His South Pacific voyage wasn’t without incident however. One member of the crew contracted Dengue Fever, and the situation turned critical after he hadn’t been able to keep food down for five days. As the medical officer aboard the Hokūle’a, Arch put a call for assistance in to the Coast Guard of a nearby island. A small boat came out to meet the Hokūle’a just as a storm was descending on the area. During the transfer of the sick crew member, another person had their hand smashed between the hulls of the two boats, and he too had to be evacuated. After that, the canoes were battered by heavy rains, and big waves for 18 hours straight, before the seas calmed down at last. “The storm was a reminder of just how powerful Mother Nature truly is,” Kalepa says. A sentiment that goes hand-in-hand with the Mālama Hoonua concept.
The Hokūle’a and Hikianalia will continue to slowly make their way across the South Pacific over the next few months, as they wrap up the first leg of the journey. In early September, the ships were on hand to welcome U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, and ocean explorer/activist Sylvia Earle to Sāmoa. Both were part of a delegation of dignitaries that were there to attend the United Nations Small Island Developing State Conference. After that, the two ships set sail for the Phoenix Islands of Kiribati, before proceeding back to Sāmoa and on to the island of Tonga.
In November, they’ll leave those safe harbors at last, and make their way towards New Zealand, and eventually Australia. In 2015, the voyage will pass into the Indian Ocean, and on to Indonesia, Diego Garcia, Madagascar, South Africa, and beyond. Everywhere they go, the crew hopes to carry the message of Mālama Honua, and inspire others to learn to live more in harmony with the the planet.
Kalepa has rotated off the crew for now, but when asked what message he’d like to send to the world, his reply was a simple one. “Treat each other with respect, help one another, and do your small part to help save the world.”